Affordability and accessibility — Essentially, people need to be paid a living wage so that they can have access to and afford healthier foods. Government subsidies also need to be increased to make healthy food more affordable, instead of the current focus on commodity crops that go into animal feed and processed packaged foods.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tripp and Carmen Eldridge. Tripp and Carmen are the full-time farm director at Arden, South Florida’s first master planned “Agrihood.” The talented duo plan and execute every aspect of the community’s five-acre farm. Tripp began his career as a Peace Corps volunteer and has since put his skills to use in a variety of settings ranging from botanical gardens to row crops and ranch land. Carmen also got her start building and maintaining community farms with the Peace Corps, and later went on to become the founder of a one-acre teaching farm at the University of North Florida.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in health and wellness career(s)?
Carmen: When I was fifteen years old, I became a vegetarian with the hope that I could change the planet and live a more sustainable, low impact and low tox lifestyle. And I started getting interested in food policy in school. My goal at that point became advancing agricultural practices that would conserve our soil, water, wildlife habitats and energy resources. Ultimately, I became interested in and began studying organic crop production at the University of Florida.
Tripp: As a senior in college, I discovered Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), around the same time I started cooking for myself. I visited a small organic CSA in my ecology class. The people I met there were both extraordinary and passionate about their work. Then, I started volunteering on a small organic farm in exchange for the freshest, most flavorful vegetables I had ever tasted — and I was hooked! That was the spark and since that time I’ve worked on farms, with farmers and at farmers markets.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your careers?
Carmen: After the Peace Corps, I had an opportunity to work for Florida Organic Growers. The organization started a statewide nutrition incentive program called free Fresh Access Bucks. Funded by the USDA, the program helps increase the purchasing power of Florida’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called food stamps. Specifically, the program provides a one-to-one match that encourages SNAP recipients to redeem their benefits for healthy produce from Florida markets, produce stands, CSAs and more. Since its inception in 2013, the program has resulted in $1.5 million in healthy food purchases.
Tripp: I’ve had the opportunity to work on a couple of different farms, including White Oak Pastures in South Georgia and Caney Fork Farms in Tennessee. In all of these positions, I’ve been able to incorporate tree planting as part of the farm design. So, in relationship to the question, I have planted over 20,000 trees in various locations over the last 10 years.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Carmen: I’ve certainly made mistakes, but Tripp has the most humorous story, so I’ll turn it over to him:
Tripp: At one of my first farm positions at White Oak Pastures in South Georgia, I was driving a truck and trailer back from the field late one night. I had to pull over to strap something down. But after getting out, I realized I had left the truck in gear. Worse yet, the door had auto-locked — with the radio on inside — and the truck and trailer started rolling down an embankment. Finally, it stopped abruptly when it hit a barbed wire fence. We were able to cut the truck out and repair the fence. Ultimately, the important lesson I learned was to work quickly, but with intention and slow down when it matters.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness, health and/or wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
Tripp & Carmen:Today, we are the full-time farm managers for Arden, South Florida’s first “Agrihood,” a master-planned community with a central five-acre farm and barn that offers farm-to-table living. Developed by Freehold Communities, Arden offers residents year-round harvests of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, and they can also help us plant and tend the crops.
At the same time, looking at the big picture, we’re proud to be at the forefront of a new trend toward healthy, more sustainable communities like Arden. That has been, and continues to be, tremendously fulfilling.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Carmen: After returning from the Peace Corps, I had the unique opportunity to work for the University of North Florida (UNF) in Jacksonville as the part-time community garden manager. I submitted a proposal to expand the garden to a one-acre teaching farm and Bruce Ogier, an alumnus of UNF, generously donated the funds to develop the farm called UNF Ogier Gardens. This expansion also led to my approved request to grow food for the university’s cafeteria. None of it would have happened without Bruce — he was our champion!
Tripp: Will Harris, who runsWhite Oak Pastures organic farm in South Georgia, gave me my first opportunity managing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The farm sold to whole foods, including organic eggs. I owe him for giving me the chance to learn how to run a business and manage staff.
Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Tripp & Carmen: This depends on so many factors, socio-economic level, lifestyle and more. But the following encompasses what we think are the three main blockages to integrating health and wellness into our lives:
- Affordability and accessibility — Essentially, people need to be paid a living wage so that they can have access to and afford healthier foods. Government subsidies also need to be increased to make healthy food more affordable, instead of the current focus on commodity crops that go into animal feed and processed packaged foods.
- Better built environments — As a nation, we must have more intention when it comes to building cities and suburbs. Specifically, walkable and livable communities like Arden, where we serve as the full-time farm managers. Convenient and safe, with public spaces for a more public life, compact town centers, pedestrian friendly walkways, trails, safe bike lanes, convenient and safe crossings, well-maintained public streets, parks, plazas — it’s all part of providing better built environments to improve both physical and mental health and wellness.
- Social infrastructure — A supportive community that offers connections with other people, and the land, enables everyone to get to know their neighbors and be less socially isolated. And, at communities like Arden, this also provides some important built-in peer pressure among neighbors to use the trails and other health and wellness related amenities.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”?
Tripp & Carmen: The following are examples of lifestyle tweaks that we try and follow personally to help improve well-being:
1. Embrace minimalism — Voluntarily simplifying life by reducing physical and mental clutter. Ultimately, the more things we all have the more there is to manage.
2. Support your local farmers — Join Community Supported Agriculture to eat local. The closer you are to your food source the better the taste and the nutrients.
3. Get off your phone — Start living in the moment and connecting directly with the real world. This is as hard for us as it is everyone else, but it’s so important to improving well-being.
4. Get into nature — It’s preferable to do this with your hands in the dirt and bare feet!
5. Get to know your neighbors, have more dinner parties, enjoy slowing down and preparing and sharing food. Arden’s residents are really good at this — they hold regular themed dinner parties and more. They’re always finding ways to connect with one another, in large part because the community makes it so much easier.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Carmen: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn made a big impact on me — it helped me look at the world in a different way. Quinn’s novel takes an in-depth look at biases that drive the modern world, examining vital themes like ethics and sustainability.
Tripp: My first farmer mentor loaned me a copy of Eliott Coleman’s The New Organic Grower. The book made a significant impact by providing me with the inspiration to earn a living from farming because it was prescriptive in terms of how to go about it.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Carmen & Tripp: When we think of what would do the most amount of good for the most amount of people it has to be fighting global climate change. As farmers, we can’t help but think about the weather, we notice shifts every year. Ultimately, there’s nothing more important to health and wellness than a stable climate. We have to piggyback on 16-year-old international climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s work and all the youth of today fighting for real action against climate change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
The following are quotes that we think of and reflect on regularly. They help provide an important framework for our lives and, on a larger scale, what matters most not only now but in the future:
CARMEN: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
TRIPP: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” — George Bernard Shaw
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
TRIPP & CARMEN:We would love to have a private breakfast or lunch withGreta Thunberg, the 16-year-old international climate and environmental activist. Her unapologetic fight against climate change — for the future of the human species, the planet and all that live on it — is inspiring.
Thank you for all of these great insights!